“A Time of Goodwill”
1, 2. (a) What blessing did Isaiah enjoy? (b) Who are involved in the prophetic words recorded in the first half of Isaiah chapter 49?
ALL faithful humans have long enjoyed God’s approval and protection. But Jehovah does not extend his goodwill indiscriminately. A person must qualify for such an incomparable blessing. Isaiah was one who did. He enjoyed God’s favor and was used by Jehovah as an instrument to make known His will to others. An example of this is recorded in the first half of chapter 49 of Isaiah’s prophecy.
2 These words are prophetically addressed to the seed of Abraham. In the initial fulfillment, that seed is the nation of Israel, which descended from Abraham. However, much of the language clearly applies to the long-hoped-for Seed of Abraham, the promised Messiah. The inspired words also apply to the spiritual brothers of the Messiah, who become part of the spiritual seed of Abraham and of “the Israel of God.” (Galatians 3:7, 16, 29; 6:16) In particular, this portion of Isaiah’s prophecy describes the special relationship that exists between Jehovah and his beloved Son, Jesus Christ.—Isaiah 49:26.
Appointed and Protected by Jehovah
3, 4. (a) What support does the Messiah have? (b) To whom is the Messiah speaking?
3 The Messiah enjoys God’s goodwill, or approval. Jehovah gives him the authority and credentials needed to fulfill his mission. Appropriately, then, the future Messiah says: “Listen to me, O you islands, and pay attention, you national groups far away. Jehovah himself has called me even from the belly. From the inward parts of my mother he has made mention of my name.”—Isaiah 49:1.
4 Here the Messiah directs his remarks to peoples from “far away.” Although the Messiah is promised to the Jewish people, his ministry will serve to bless all the nations. (Matthew 25:31-33) The “islands” and the “national groups,” even though not in a covenant with Jehovah, should heed Israel’s Messiah because he is sent to bring salvation to all humankind.
5. How is the Messiah named even before he is born as a human?
5 The prophecy says that Jehovah will name the Messiah before he is born as a human. (Matthew 1:21; Luke 1:31) Long before his birth, Jesus is named “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6) Immanuel, likely the name of a son of Isaiah, also turns out to be a prophetic name of the Messiah. (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:21-23) Even the given name by which the Messiah will come to be known—Jesus—is foretold before his birth. (Luke 1:30, 31) This name comes from the Hebrew word that means “Jehovah Is Salvation.” Clearly, Jesus is not a self-appointed Christ.
6. In what way is the Messiah’s mouth like a sharp sword, and how is he hidden, or concealed?
6 The Messiah’s prophetic words continue: “And he proceeded to make my mouth like a sharp sword. In the shadow of his hand he has hidden me. And he gradually made me a polished arrow. He concealed me in his own quiver.” (Isaiah 49:2) When the time comes for Jehovah’s Messiah to begin his earthly ministry in 29 C.E., Jesus’ words and actions do indeed prove to be like sharp, polished weapons, able to penetrate the hearts of his listeners. (Luke 4:31, 32) His words and actions provoke the wrath of Jehovah’s great enemy, Satan, and his agents. From the time of Jesus’ birth, Satan tries to take His life, but Jesus is like an arrow concealed in Jehovah’s own quiver.* He can confidently count on his Father’s protection. (Psalm 91:1; Luke 1:35) At the appointed time, Jesus gives his life in behalf of mankind. But the time will come when he will go forth as a mighty heavenly warrior armed in a different sense, with a sharp sword proceeding out of his mouth. This time, the sharp sword represents Jesus’ authority to pronounce and execute judgments against Jehovah’s enemies.—Revelation 1:16.
The Labors of God’s Servant Are Not in Vain
7. To whom are Jehovah’s words at Isaiah 49:3 applied, and why?
7 Now Jehovah speaks these prophetic words: “You are my servant, O Israel, you the one in whom I shall show my beauty.” (Isaiah 49:3) Jehovah refers to the nation of Israel as his servant. (Isaiah 41:8) But Jesus Christ is God’s preeminent Servant. (Acts 3:13) None of God’s creatures can reflect Jehovah’s “beauty” better than Jesus. Hence, while nominally addressed to Israel, these words have their real application to Jesus.—John 14:9; Colossians 1:15.
8. How do the Messiah’s own people react to him, but to whom does the Messiah look to judge his success?
8 Is it not true, though, that Jesus is despised and rejected by most of his own people? Yes. By and large, the nation of Israel does not accept Jesus as God’s anointed Servant. (John 1:11) All that Jesus accomplishes while on earth might seem to his contemporaries to be of little value, even insignificant. This apparent failure in his ministry is alluded to next by the Messiah: “It is for nothing that I have toiled. For unreality and vanity I have used up my own power.” (Isaiah 49:4a) These statements are not made because the Messiah is discouraged. Consider what he says next: “Truly my judgment is with Jehovah, and my wages with my God.” (Isaiah 49:4b) The Messiah’s success is to be judged, not by men, but by God.
9, 10. (a) What is the Messiah’s commission from Jehovah, and what results does he achieve? (b) How can Christians today be encouraged by the experiences of the Messiah?
9 Jesus is principally interested in God’s approval, or goodwill. In the prophecy, the Messiah says: “Now Jehovah, the One forming me from the belly as a servant belonging to him, has said for me to bring back Jacob to him, in order that to him Israel itself may be gathered. And I shall be glorified in the eyes of Jehovah, and my own God will have become my strength.” (Isaiah 49:5) The Messiah comes to turn the hearts of the sons of Israel back to their heavenly Father. Most do not respond, but some do. However, his real wages are with Jehovah God. His success is measured, not in human terms, but according to Jehovah’s own standards.
10 Today, Jesus’ followers may at times feel as if they are toiling for nothing. In some places, the results of their ministry may seem insignificant when compared with the amount of work and effort expended. Still, they endure, encouraged by the example of Jesus. They are also strengthened by the words of the apostle Paul, who wrote: “Consequently, my beloved brothers, become steadfast, unmovable, always having plenty to do in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in connection with the Lord.”—1 Corinthians 15:58.
“A Light of the Nations”
11, 12. How has the Messiah been “a light of the nations”?
11 In Isaiah’s prophecy, Jehovah encourages the Messiah by reminding him that being God’s Servant is no “trivial matter.” Jesus is “to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back even the safeguarded ones of Israel.” Jehovah additionally explains: “I also have given you for a light of the nations, that my salvation may come to be to the extremity of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6) How does Jesus enlighten peoples “to the extremity of the earth” when his earthly ministry is restricted to Israel?
12 The Bible record shows that God’s “light of the nations” was not extinguished with Jesus’ departure from the earthly scene. About 15 years after Jesus’ death, the missionaries Paul and Barnabas quoted the prophecy of Isaiah 49:6 and applied it to Jesus’ disciples, his spiritual brothers. They explained: “Jehovah has laid commandment upon us in these words, ‘I have appointed you as a light of nations, for you to be a salvation to the extremity of the earth.’” (Acts 13:47) Before his own death, Paul saw the good news of salvation made available to not only the Jews but “all creation that is under heaven.” (Colossians 1:6, 23) Today, the remaining ones of Christ’s anointed brothers continue this work. Supported by “a great crowd” numbering into the millions, they serve as “a light of the nations” in more than 230 lands around the world.—Revelation 7:9.
13, 14. (a) The Messiah and his followers have met up with what reaction to the preaching work? (b) What reversal of circumstances has taken place?
13 Jehovah has indeed proved to be the strength behind his Servant the Messiah, the anointed brothers of the Messiah, and all those of the great crowd who, with them, continue the work of preaching the good news. True, like Jesus, his disciples have faced disdain and opposition. (John 15:20) But in his due time, Jehovah always causes a reversal of circumstances in order to rescue and reward his loyal servants. Regarding the Messiah, who is “despised in soul” and “detested by the nation,” Jehovah promises: “Kings themselves will see and certainly rise up, and princes, and they will bow down, by reason of Jehovah, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who chooses you.”—Isaiah 49:7.
14 Later the apostle Paul wrote to Christians in Philippi about this foretold reversal of circumstances. He described Jesus as someone who had been humiliated on a torture stake but then was exalted by God. Jehovah gave his Servant “a superior position and kindly gave him the name that is above every other name, so that in the name of Jesus every knee should bend.” (Philippians 2:8-11) Christ’s faithful followers have been warned that they too will be persecuted. But like the Messiah, they are assured of Jehovah’s goodwill.—Matthew 5:10-12; 24:9-13; Mark 10:29, 30.
“The Especially Acceptable Time”
15. What special “time” is mentioned in Isaiah’s prophecy, and what is implied by this?
15 Isaiah’s prophecy continues with a statement of great significance. Jehovah tells the Messiah: “In a time of goodwill I have answered you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you; and I kept safeguarding you that I might give you as a covenant for the people.” (Isaiah 49:8a) A similar prophecy is recorded at Psalm 69:13-18. The psalmist refers to “a time of goodwill,” using the expression “an acceptable time.” These terms imply that Jehovah’s goodwill and protection are extended in a special manner but only during a specific and temporary period.
16. What was Jehovah’s time of goodwill for ancient Israel?
16 When was that time of goodwill? In the original setting, the words were part of a restoration prophecy and foretold the Jews’ return from exile. The nation of Israel experienced a time of goodwill when they were able to “rehabilitate the land” and repossess their “desolated hereditary possessions.” (Isaiah 49:8b) They were no longer “prisoners” in Babylon. During their journey home, Jehovah made sure that they did not go “hungry” or “thirsty,” nor did any “parching heat or sun strike them.” Scattered Israelites flocked back to their homeland “from far away . . . , from the north and from the west.” (Isaiah 49:9-12) Notwithstanding this initial dramatic fulfillment, the Bible shows that there are extended applications of this prophecy.
17, 18. What time of goodwill did Jehovah appoint during the first century?
17 First, on the occasion of Jesus’ birth, the angels proclaimed peace and God’s goodwill, or favor, toward men. (Luke 2:13, 14) This goodwill was offered, not to men in general, but only to those who exercised faith in Jesus. Later Jesus publicly read the prophecy of Isaiah 61:1, 2 and applied it to himself as the proclaimer of “Jehovah’s acceptable year.” (Luke 4:17-21) The apostle Paul spoke of Christ as receiving Jehovah’s special protection during the days of his flesh. (Hebrews 5:7-9) So this time of goodwill applies to God’s favor upon Jesus during his lifetime as a human.
18 However, there is a further application of this prophecy. After quoting the words of Isaiah regarding the time of goodwill, Paul went on to say: “Look! Now is the especially acceptable time. Look! Now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2) Paul wrote these words 22 years after Jesus’ death. Evidently, with the birth of the Christian congregation at Pentecost of 33 C.E., Jehovah extended his year of goodwill so as to include Christ’s anointed followers.
19. How can Christians today benefit from Jehovah’s time of goodwill?
19 What about Jesus’ followers today who are not anointed as heirs of God’s heavenly kingdom? Can those with an earthly hope benefit from this acceptable time? Yes. The Bible book of Revelation shows that this is a time of goodwill on the part of Jehovah toward the great crowd that will come “out of the great tribulation” to enjoy life on a paradise earth. (Revelation 7:13-17) Hence, all Christians can take advantage of this limited period during which Jehovah offers his goodwill to imperfect humans.
20. In what way can Christians avoid missing the purpose of Jehovah’s undeserved kindness?
20 The apostle Paul preceded the proclamation of Jehovah’s acceptable time with a warning. He entreated Christians “not to accept the undeserved kindness of God and miss its purpose.” (2 Corinthians 6:1) Accordingly, Christians make use of every opportunity to please God and do his will. (Ephesians 5:15, 16) They do well to follow Paul’s admonition: “Beware, brothers, for fear there should ever develop in any one of you a wicked heart lacking faith by drawing away from the living God; but keep on exhorting one another each day, as long as it may be called ‘Today,’ for fear any one of you should become hardened by the deceptive power of sin.”—Hebrews 3:12, 13.
21. What joyful statement concludes the first part of Isaiah chapter 49?
21 As the prophetic expressions between Jehovah and his Messiah come to an end, Isaiah utters a joyful statement: “Give a glad cry, you heavens, and be joyful, you earth. Let the mountains become cheerful with a glad outcry. For Jehovah has comforted his people, and he shows pity upon his own afflicted ones.” (Isaiah 49:13) What beautiful words of comfort for the Israelites of old and for Jehovah’s great Servant, Jesus Christ, as well as for Jehovah’s anointed servants and their “other sheep” companions today!—John 10:16.
Jehovah Does Not Forget His People
22. How does Jehovah emphasize that he will never forget his people?
22 Isaiah now continues to report Jehovah’s pronouncements. He foretells that the exiled Israelites will tend to tire out and lose hope. Isaiah says: “Zion kept saying: ‘Jehovah has left me, and Jehovah himself has forgotten me.’” (Isaiah 49:14) Is this true? Has Jehovah abandoned his people and forgotten them? Acting as Jehovah’s spokesman, Isaiah continues: “Can a wife forget her suckling so that she should not pity the son of her belly? Even these women can forget, yet I myself shall not forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15) What a loving response from Jehovah! God’s love for his people is greater than that of a mother for her child. He is constantly thinking of his loyal ones. He remembers them as if their names were engraved on his hands: “Look! Upon my palms I have engraved you. Your walls are in front of me constantly.”—Isaiah 49:16.
23. How did Paul encourage Christians to trust Jehovah not to forget them?
23 In his letter to the Galatians, the apostle Paul exhorted Christians: “Let us not give up in doing what is fine, for in due season we shall reap if we do not tire out.” (Galatians 6:9) To the Hebrews he wrote the encouraging words: “God is not unrighteous so as to forget your work and the love you showed for his name.” (Hebrews 6:10) Never should we feel that Jehovah has forgotten his people. Like ancient Zion, Christians have good reason to rejoice and patiently wait on Jehovah. He holds firm to his covenant terms and promises.
24. In what way will Zion be restored, and what questions will she ask?
24 Jehovah, through Isaiah, offers additional comfort. Those “tearing [Zion] down,” either the Babylonians or the apostate Jews, are no longer a threat. Zion’s “sons,” exiled Jews that remain loyal to Jehovah, “have hurried up.” They will be “collected together.” Having hastened back to Jerusalem, the repatriated Jews will be adornments to their capital city, just as “a bride” is clothed with “ornaments.” (Isaiah 49:17, 18) Zion’s places have been “devastated.” Imagine her surprise when she suddenly has so many inhabitants that her dwelling place seems cramped. (Read Isaiah 49:19, 20.) Naturally, she asks where all these children come from: “You will for certain say in your heart, ‘Who has become father to these for me, since I am a woman bereaved of children and sterile, gone into exile and taken prisoner? As for these, who has brought them up? Look! I myself had been left behind alone. These—where have they been?’” (Isaiah 49:21) What a happy situation for previously barren Zion!
25. In modern times, what restoration did spiritual Israel experience?
25 These words have a modern fulfillment. In the difficult years of the first world war, spiritual Israel experienced a period of desolation and captivity. But she was restored and came to be in a spiritual paradise. (Isaiah 35:1-10) Like the once devastated city described by Isaiah, she was delighted—as it were—to find herself teeming with joyful, active worshipers of Jehovah.
“A Signal for the Peoples”
26. What direction does Jehovah provide for his liberated people?
26 In a prophetic way, Jehovah now takes Isaiah to the time when His people will be released from Babylon. Will they receive any divine direction? Jehovah answers: “Look! I shall raise up my hand even to the nations, and to the peoples I shall lift up my signal. And they will bring your sons in the bosom, and upon the shoulder they will carry your own daughters.” (Isaiah 49:22) In the original fulfillment, Jerusalem, formerly the seat of government and the location of Jehovah’s temple, becomes Jehovah’s “signal.” Even prominent and powerful people of other nations, such as “kings” and “princesses,” assist the Israelites in their journey back there. (Isaiah 49:23a) Persian kings Cyrus and Artaxerxes Longimanus and their households prove to be among these helpers. (Ezra 5:13; 7:11-26) And Isaiah’s words have a further application.
27. (a) In the greater fulfillment, to what “signal” will the peoples flock? (b) What will result when all nations are forced to bow to the Messiah’s rulership?
27 Isaiah 11:10 speaks of “a signal for the peoples.” The apostle Paul applied these words to Christ Jesus. (Romans 15:8-12) Hence, in the greater fulfillment, Jesus and his spirit-anointed corulers are Jehovah’s “signal” to which the peoples flock. (Revelation 14:1) In due time all the peoples of the earth—even today’s ruling classes—will have to bow to the Messiah’s rulership. (Psalm 2:10, 11; Daniel 2:44) The result? Jehovah says: “You will have to know that I am Jehovah, of whom those hoping in me will not be ashamed.”—Isaiah 49:23b.
“Now Our Salvation Is Nearer”
28. (a) With what words does Jehovah once again assure his people that they will be released? (b) What commitment does Jehovah still have with regard to his people?
28 Some of those in exile in Babylon may wonder, ‘Is it really possible that Israel will be released?’ Jehovah takes that question into account by asking: “Can those already taken be taken from a mighty man himself, or can the body of captives of the tyrant make their escape?” (Isaiah 49:24) The reply is yes. Jehovah assures them: “Even the body of captives of the mighty man will be taken away, and those already taken by the tyrant himself will make their escape.” (Isaiah 49:25a) What comforting assurance! Moreover, Jehovah’s goodwill toward his people comes with a firm commitment to protect them. In no uncertain terms, he says: “Against anyone contending against you I myself shall contend, and your own sons I myself shall save.” (Isaiah 49:25b) That commitment still stands. As recorded at Zechariah 2:8, Jehovah says to his people: “He that is touching you is touching my eyeball.” True, we now enjoy a period of goodwill during which peoples throughout the earth have opportunity to flock to spiritual Zion. However, that period of goodwill will come to an end.
29. What grim prospect awaits those who refuse to obey Jehovah?
29 What will happen to those who stubbornly refuse to obey Jehovah and who even persecute his worshipers? He says: “I will make those maltreating you eat their own flesh; and as with the sweet wine they will become drunk with their own blood.” (Isaiah 49:26a) A grim prospect! Such stubborn opponents have no long-term future. They will be destroyed. Thus, both by saving his people and by destroying their enemies, Jehovah will be seen as a Savior. “All flesh will have to know that I, Jehovah, am your Savior and your Repurchaser, the Powerful One of Jacob.”—Isaiah 49:26b.
30. What saving acts has Jehovah performed in behalf of his people, and what will he yet do?
30 Those words first applied when Jehovah used Cyrus to free His people from Babylonian bondage. They applied equally in 1919 when Jehovah used his enthroned Son, Jesus Christ, to release His people from spiritual enslavement. Hence, the Bible speaks of both Jehovah and Jesus as saviors. (Titus 2:11-13; 3:4-6) Jehovah is our Savior, and Jesus, the Messiah, is his “Chief Agent.” (Acts 5:31) Indeed, God’s saving acts through Jesus Christ are wonderful. By means of the good news, Jehovah frees righthearted ones from bondage to false religion. Through the ransom sacrifice, he delivers them from bondage to sin and death. In 1919 he delivered Jesus’ brothers from spiritual bondage. And in the fast-approaching war of Armageddon, he will deliver a great crowd of faithful humans from the destruction that will come upon sinners.
31. How should Christians react to being recipients of God’s goodwill?
31 What a privilege, then, to be recipients of God’s goodwill! May all of us use this acceptable time wisely. And may we act in harmony with the urgency of our times, paying heed to Paul’s words to the Romans: “You people know the season, that it is already the hour for you to awake from sleep, for now our salvation is nearer than at the time when we became believers. The night is well along; the day has drawn near. Let us therefore put off the works belonging to darkness and let us put on the weapons of the light. As in the daytime let us walk decently, not in revelries and drunken bouts, not in illicit intercourse and loose conduct, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not be planning ahead for the desires of the flesh.”—Romans 13:11-14.
32. What assurances do God’s people have?
32 Jehovah will continue to favor those who heed his counsel. He will provide them with the strength and abilities needed to carry out the preaching of the good news. (2 Corinthians 4:7) Jehovah will use his servants as he uses their Leader, Jesus. He will make their mouth “like a sharp sword” so that they will reach the hearts of the meek with the message of the good news. (Matthew 28:19, 20) He will protect his people “in the shadow of his hand.” Like “a polished arrow,” they will be concealed “in his own quiver.” Indeed, Jehovah will not forsake his people!—Psalm 94:14; Isaiah 49:2, 15.
“Satan, no doubt identifying Jesus as the Son of God and the one who was prophesied to bruise him in the head (Ge 3:15), did everything he could to destroy Jesus. But, when announcing the conception of Jesus to Mary, the angel Gabriel told her: ‘Holy spirit will come upon you, and power of the Most High will overshadow you. For that reason also what is born will be called holy, God’s Son.’ (Lu 1:35) Jehovah safeguarded his Son. The efforts to destroy Jesus when an infant were unsuccessful.”—Insight on the Scriptures, Volume 2, page 868, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
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The Messiah is like “a polished arrow” in Jehovah’s quiver
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The Messiah has been “a light of the nations”
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God’s love for his people is greater than that of a mother for her child